Care for Creation and Climate Justice: An Ecumenical Witness of Hope
by Gail Allan
Heat waves, rivers drying up, wild fires, floods, disappearing glaciers… Recent events in our own context and around the world leave no doubt that the daily life of our communities, our global partners, and the mission and ministries of our churches will increasingly be impacted by climate-related disasters, the trauma of those directly affected, and the fear and despair experienced by so many in the face of our destruction of creation.
In 2021 the Interfaith Liaison Committee to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change made a strong plea
for the importance of people of faith and faith-based organizations in the struggle for climate justice.
“As people of faith we have the vocation to care for our home, Mother Earth. . . . In every faith there is a clear moral obligation to cooperate in the healing of people and the planet. We want to contribute with a framework of deeply rooted hope. A hope that is based on science, the courage to act, and a defiant attitude founded on love. Love calls us to deep solidarity with sisters and brothers in poorer parts of the world . . . to seek climate justice and restoration . . . to transformation of relationships, systems, and lifestyles. . . . We ask our leaders to not only keep the promise of the Paris Agreement alive, but also to keep the hope of a flourishing future for humanity alive.”
Christians in Canada have been active in this search for climate justice. Much of this work has been ecumenical and interfaith, as people in national and local faith communities have recognized the strength to be gained in collaboration for transformation. One ecumenical initiative was undertaken by the national Roman Catholic-United Church Dialogue in discussions that took place from 2012-2017 on our churches’ responses to the ecological crisis, with particular attention to climate change. In 2018, the report of the dialogue, “The Hope within Us,” was published. The report offers both theological reflection on creation, ecology and the environment, and calls to action, suggesting how local faith communities might come together to work for transformation.
Caring for creation
The conversations of the dialogue and its report were strongly grounded in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home
and The United Church of Canada’s faith statement A Song of Faith
. The group found in these resources important insights and affirmations about the interconnectedness of all creation and the responsibility of humans to respect and care for creation. Recognizing our intertwined relationships with God, neighbour and Earth itself, we are called into an inclusive covenant of solidarity that reflects the interdependence modelled in the Trinity. This includes recognizing the links between the climate crisis and the injustice of an economic system that produces poverty, exclusion, and inequality. Both our churches affirm justice, fairness, compassion, and ecological sensitivity as foundational values for our economic systems, and the importance of wide circles of dialogue in creating change, including people of faith, Indigenous communities, scientists, and decision-makers.
A primary focus of the dialogue was the role of faith communities in responding to the feelings of grief, anger, and despair that are often generated by facing the reality of the climate crisis. Dialogue members turned to scripture and tradition as our resource for “giving account of the hope that is in us.” There they found a journey from lament to trust and hope; a vision of shalom that includes the redemption of all creation and is a call to conversion and action toward healing and flourishing. They acknowledged the reality of our perilous circumstances, while emphasizing the responsibility of Christians to act faithfully, grounded in the hope that is the mysterious gift of God as we live between crucifixion and resurrection.
As part of their reflections on sources of hope, dialogue members noted the importance of ritual and prayer in supporting movements for ecological transformation. These practices help us to name the sinfulness in our relationships with creation, articulate our fears and hopes, and imagine the world differently. As one way of demonstrating this understanding of prayer as a resource for transformation in our relationship to creation, the dialogue produced a liturgy for an Earth Hour vigil. The vigil encourages churches to join ecumenically in the annual late March hour of turning off lights, by engaging together in prayer, reflection, and intention for action — reading, praying, and singing by candlelight. Words from Song of Faith
and Laudato Si’
are included along with scripture readings.
In addition to the liturgy, the report offers a series of action suggestions for local communities committed to working together in care for creation and transformation toward ecological justice. Insisting on the need for “reimagining together, in the context of Canada, what it is to be human and Christian,” the dialogue partners focus in this call to action on “ecologically minded discipleship” with theological and environmental education, congregational participation in best practices, and daily rituals for ecological justice, celebration of the transformative power of community action, and attention to God’s work through us for renewal of the Earth. The report concludes that “faith communities can and must assume their proper role in God’s healing of the planet,” upheld by hope, grace, and “a desire to cooperate, heal, and protect.” The report can be found here
. The Earth Hour liturgy is included as an appendix to the report.
Season of Creation
One opportunity to take up the call to education, action, and celebration is the global, ecumenical observation of the Season of Creation
, celebrated from the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1 to the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. Supported by a coalition of partners from around the world, and affirmed by church leadership including the World Council of Churches and Pope Francis, the Season of Creation provides ideas and resources for denominational and ecumenical engagement in a shared season of reflection and action.
In the Canadian context, KAIROS is linking to the Season of Creation through its September Climate Action Month
focus. Throughout the month, KAIROS shares resources about weekly themes, highlighting the work of churches, global partners, and local communities engaged in climate action. In September 2022, an overall theme of decolonizing climate action will include attention to Canadian complicity and action; Indigenous, global, and youth partners in COP27 solidarity; and the muted or silenced voices in the climate crisis. Resources and reflections will be posted in Climate Action Month blogs
For the Love of Creation
Another Canadian ecumenical initiative is a recent campaign endorsed by multiple faith bodies and faith-based organizations, For the Love of Creation
. The campaign aims to bring these groups together to activate work for climate justice that is faith-based and theologically grounded, and committed to Indigenous self-determination and youth empowerment. One key aspect of the campaign has been creating tools for collaborative theological reflection on climate issues, and gathering those reflections into a “Letter of the Faithful for the Love of Creation” — a pastoral epistle containing concerns, challenges, and action possibilities that invite our advocacy. As well, the campaign urges local and congregational engagement on climate change through “Faithful Climate Conversations,” and provides a series of study guides for hosting these. Finally, people are invited to participate in a specific advocacy campaign: in Lent 2022 it was Give it up for the Earth!, a call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build relationships with Indigenous communities, and write to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change about Canada’s existing climate commitments.
Our ecumenical vocation as Christians
All of these initiatives arise from the conviction that our ecumenical vocation as Christians is to work, pray, and celebrate together for healing and justice in God’s beloved Creation. In this, we also join with people of different faiths and others whose values calls them to action. We are called to build communities of right relationship, and to recognize and respect our interrelatedness in the web of life. We do this knowing, in the words of the creed of the United Church of Canada where I find my home, that “we are not alone, we live in God’s world” and that our God, “who has created and is creating” is faithful in love for all creation. And so, firm in this knowledge, we witness together, in our analysis and action, reflection, and praise, to the hope that is in us.
Gail Allan is a member of the United Church of Canada, who has worked in ecumenical and interfaith relations, as well as issues of global and social justice, including as Coordinator for Ecumenical, Interchurch and Interfaith Relations in the General Council Office of the United Church, from 2004-2020. She has a doctorate in ethics from Emmanuel College; her dissertation focused on the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women as it was lived out in Canada. At present she lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where she is active in her local congregation, Garneau United Church, and is an associate faculty member at St. Stephen’s College, Edmonton.